I will never turn down a chance to interview Spike Lee. The guy’s a legend and he’s surprisingly fun to talk to. I first met him on the set of his reinterpretation of Oldboy and figured that would be the only time I got to talk to him about the film. So when an additional chance to speak with him arose last week, I was there in a heartbeat (along with a few other reporters).
The film, which stars Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel Jackson, and James Ransone “is a provocative, visceral thriller that follows the story of Joe Doucette (Josh Brolin), a man who is abruptly kidnapped and held hostage for 20 years in solitary confinement, for no apparent reason. When he is suddenly released without explanation, he begins an obsessive mission to find out who imprisoned him, only to discover that the real mystery is why he was set free.”
How did you go about getting Chan-wook Park’s blessing for the film?
I never got to talk to Mr. Park. I’m a professor at NYU and he showed Stoker the same night I was teaching. He doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Korean. We were working through his assistant and we just couldn’t make it happen. But I did receive an email from him, via his assistant, saying he did enjoy the trailer. I don’t think he’s seen the film yet.
But Josh did go and meet with Park because Josh wanted his blessing. He wasn’t going to do the film [otherwise]. Park told Josh, “look. You have my blessing. But don’t try to redo what we did. Make your own film.”
And that was my feeling from the beginning. I love Gus Van Sant but [referring to the 1998 Psycho remake] why do that? Gus is a great filmmaker but that’s just something I wouldn’t do. That’s why we’re saying “reinterpretation” instead of “remake.”
What attracted you to the reinterpretation?
Working with Josh and the challenge of doing a reinterpretation. I’ve never done this before. And also knowing that there were people who didn’t want us to do it. That it was heresy. That it was sacrilegious. And I understand that because when people are cult fans they’re fanatical and it was like we were messing with their mama [laughs].
People always forget that there are three interpretations of the material. I think it’s very interesting. The origin is the Japanese Manga. The next manifestation is Korean and now it’s American.
One of the things that strikes me as being advantageous here is that you can really shock an American audience with this. There’s no perceived cultural divide.
“These exotic people!” They’re not reading subtitles.
Do you get a kick out of the fact that people are going to walk into this on Thanksgiving weekend having no idea what to expect?
Oh yes! It’s going to be delightful. What people tend to over magnify is the fact that not many people saw this film. Most Americans don’t go see foreign films. Especially Korean foreign films. Most Americans aren’t reading subtitles. There’s gonna be a lot of people who have their stomachs filled with turkey, dressing, sweet potato pie [laughs]! Little do they know!
Mark Protosevich has been on this project for quite a while. When you came onboard he’d gone through several drafts. What was your main note when you came onboard?
The main note was really Elizabeth Olsen’s character. First of all, Mark wrote a great script. Let’s just get that out of the way. We just felt we needed to strengthen Lizzy’s character. And it’s not just me saying that, it’s her saying that. She’s the one who has to play the role.
Why was Josh Brolin the right guy for the role?
I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role. It’s a funny story, for a period of four years Josh would always come to New York for the premiere of a film. American Gangster, No Country For Old Men, Wall Street 2 and another film. Four years in a row I would always go to these premieres and I would always meet Josh at the after party. “Oh I love your stuff! Let’s work together!” Next year, the same thing. For four years in a row. Then it finally happened.
Josh is a great actor. I love him, he loves me and we want to work together many more times. We didn’t even have to speak because we were thinking the same thing at the same time. We had the same outlook and wanted to make the same film.
Also, he gained and lost that weight. He did that himself under the supervision of dietitians and doctors, but he gained 50 lbs and lost it for the role. He had to lose the weight quickly. He lost 25 lbs over the weekend. All during rehearsal he was eating. Pasta, peanut butter, protein shakes. Just eating. Then came the point when he comes out of prison. That was on a Friday. The following Monday he had to be different.